In one sense, my basement flood couldn’t have happened at a better time. With Christmas approaching, the drive to accumulate (or should I say, more generously, “to give”) more worldly possessions grows ever stronger. The wanting is magnified. Consumerism calls. The pent-up demand begs for release.
But then I look to every available upstairs storage nook in a house with few closets. I look to the steps leading downstairs, piled high now with stacks of boxes that once lived in the basement. I look to the Portable on Demand storage unit on one side of my driveway, the Dumpster on the other, and to the still surprisingly full basement and the boxes upon boxes that made the journey from one house or another to our house, rarely if ever to be opened since. I think about how I’ll have to move it all again, and probably again after that before all the damage can be made right. And I ask myself: Do I really need more crap? Because when you have to schlep it upstairs into your livng room, then back onto the steps, then out to a storage unit in the driveway, only to eventually lug it back to where it started, even the prettiest heirlooms start to seem like a bunch of junk. If I were a turtle, the weight of this shell would be crushing me.
My husband announced last week that all he wants for Christmas is for someone else to come clean our house. What I find myself wanting after a broken washing machine hose filled our 1,400-square-foot semifinished basement with half a foot or more of water are things that make other things go away. A really powerful wet-dry vacuum. A DustBuster. Waterproof containers. Santa, give me organization! I want my storage spaces to look like something out of a Martha Stewart Living magazine.
It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of holiday buying. This year, when I feel the pangs of desire for something I’ve seen on TV, I consider whether I would still want it once the thrill of getting it was gone. Would I have to have it if I had to keep it in the middle of my living room, for example? Anything that needs to be stored and does not also clean or compress something else is not on my holiday wish list this year.
The basement flood has given me perspective on my worldly possessions, many of which are not nearly as worth saving as I once thought. Or are they? That question has held me hostage for some time now. Why are we keeping my dearly departed mother-in-law’s college and grad school diplomas, and would we be sorry if we let them go? She worked so hard for them. More to the point, why do I hold on to the contents of a large plastic container labeled “Purses and Shoes”? Each time in the past that I’ve attempted to cull, I’ve taken detours down Memory Lane and never found my way out.
Do we just continue through life like human Velcro, picking up more and more and more as we go? In a world where so many people go without, is it okay to just throw things away?
And, not to be all bah humbug, but do the kids really need any more toys? They have so much more than they can enjoy, and more toys equal more cleanup. Still, I love to watch them open presents. And I like something new to play with, too.
What we all need is a purge.
I’ve started to sneak out the toys that Jasper and Jade have grown tired of, and I’ve gotten incrementally more realistic about my own things. More than a few times since our basement flood I’ve asked myself: Do I hoard? We have just the right amount of stuff for a house of 2,000 or so square feet, but our house is much smaller, and with the basement temporarily taken out of the equation, it’s been hard not to feel like we’re living in an episode of “Hoarders,” despondently walking the trails between the piles trying to justify why we can’t get rid of anything.
Part of this tendency to gather, to bring home the best of other people’s castoffs, comes from living through lean times. I hate to waste. I don’t love that sweater, but it is a wool sweater and if I’m cold enough and all the other clothes are dirty and I’m not going to be seeing anyone I care to impress I might wear it.
In last week’s paper, we had an interview with a professional declutterer, Chucky Bologna, and it got me thinking. She advised that if you haven’t worn something for two years, you should get rid of it. I love the idea so much I am tingling with excitement. I can’t wait to go through every piece of clothing I own with that in mind. She also said, “Step away from the yard sale.” She’s right, and I have, but there’s a history to overcome in that basement of mine.
Carissa Katz is an associate editor at The Star.